CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - Two years before he would give his “Yes” to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to become the successor of Peter, Karol Cardinal Wotyla, spoke to the U.S. Bishops. His ominous observation was republished in the Wall Street Journal on November 9, 1978:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up.”
And take it up we must. The task is huge and the implications beyond what we can begin to expect. The challenges we face in undertaking this task include the insults, accusations and calumny of even our fellow citizens. We will, for example, be accused of being against progress and even “anti-science”, when nothing could be further from the truth. We are simply Pro-life and believe that science exists to serve the person, the family and the common good. Science, after all, can become a force for evil and our common history has shown how that can occur when the human heart and capacity for making the right choice has been so clearly corrupted.
On Monday, March 9, 2009, President Barrack Obama, whose election offered the promise of "hope and change", will hold a signing ceremony where he will sign one more Executive Order against life. This one is expected to remove all restraints from the use of the always deadly process of extracting stem cells from human embryonic life for experimentation. It will also open up the funding of such lethal efforts with Federal tax dollars. This is so even though research has clearly demonstrated that other types of stem cell research, for example the use of adult stem cells which can be extracted with the consent of the donor and which do not kill, have produced even greater promise and results. In addition, cells derived from fetal cord blood have shown significant promise but have received little or no attention or research support.
Recent reports have heralded the discovery of what may be an alternative to the deadly process of extracting embryonic stem cells and killing the embryonic human person in the process. They have led to hopes of using what are being called “induced pluripotent stem cells”, or iPS cells. These can now be produced by activating genes in adult cells which "reprogram" them and do not require the use of dangerous viruses or involve the taking of a human life. However, the signing of this Executive Order is expected to open the door not to the promotion of these life friendly alternatives but rather to the unlimited production of human embryonic life which could then be killed and used.
With the stroke of a Presidential pen human embryos will become property, capable of being “manufactured” like a commodity and available to be used as spare parts in experimentation which has produced no discernible scientific results. Make no mistake, every so called “extraction” of embryonic stem cells kills a living human embryo.
In 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Holy See issued its important teaching entitled “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”. Among the many questions it answered with absolute clarity was: “What Respect is due to the human embryo, taking into account his nature and identity?” The answer given by the Magisterium: “The human being must be respected - as a person - from the very first instant of his (her) existence.”
Unfortunately, the prevailing view of human rights entrenched in American judicial precedent and legislation denies the equal protection of the law to the human embryonic person. American law refuses to recognize that human embryos have a right to life and a right to a future. There are a number of differing philosophical arguments offered to promote the lie that these fundamental rights are conferred by positive civil law rather than by the Natural Law. Most of these arguments reserve the use of the concept of “person” to those humans who are deemed to somehow be “independent” and/or “autonomous”. They are also promoted by people who now call themselves “medical ethicists”. These folks have substantial academic degrees and professional pedigree and sit on Advisory Councils.
Some of these new “ethicists” try to make a distinction between “potential” and “actual” human persons and relegate the child in the womb to the category of being only a “potential” human person. Others view interdependency as a negative and insist on independence and “autonomy” as a criterion for any human rights to ever attach. Some equate the human embryo’s dependency on the mother as a form of “non-personhood”. Still others propose a progressive notion of consciousness as indicative of a growing presence of “personhood”. A few concede that human embryos are human beings but deny they are persons. We find all of these ideas in the field sadly referred to these days as “Bio-Ethics” even though such positions are anything but ethical. We find them in textbooks being used to teach the subject to future medical practitioners. (See, e.g., Singer and Kuhse, “Bioethics”)
One of these “ethicists”, Michael Tooley denies the child in the womb should have any rights at all. His rationale evolved over time. In each version, as scientific research cast serious doubt on his claims, he conveniently shifted his ground to reach the same conclusion. Yet, human embryology and developmental biology affirm that a human embryo is not distinct in kind from a human being, but a human being at an early stage of development. Even prior to implantation, a human embryo is a unique living human being with the genetic constitution and epigenetic primordial that continues to develop throughout his or her life. However, the right not to be killed in the womb, the right to be born and the right to participate in human relationships are rejected for these little persons. Human embryonic lives are reduced to what one astute Catholic philosopher and lawyer, Robert George, called a “pre-personal way of being human”.
The idea that people can be less than persons is now being applied to other stages of human development outside of the womb. The disabled (physically and mentally), the aged and the infirmed are increasingly denied the protection of the law. There is an emphasis on individual rights over relation and autonomy over solidarity. The late Servant of God John Paul wrote in “The Gospel of Life” concerning what he called this “remarkable contradiction”. He further elaborated: “…the roots of the contradiction between the solemn affirmation of human rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them.”(Par. 19) This counterfeit notion of freedom also views comatose human beings as no longer worthy of being called “persons”. Their caregivers are encouraged to stop giving them food and water. Seriously ill children are viewed as interlopers who should not continue to use medical and social resources. Whether the criteria for being recognized as a human person is a satisfactory level of brain function, an agreed upon notion of self awareness, non-dependency, individual autonomy, or some similar “acceptable” level of physical or mental capacity, this reduces the human being to a human doing, valuable not simply because they are members of our human family and gifts to be received but based upon their functionality and subject to deadly treatment once they are no longer of economic value.
There can be do debate about this fact, we were all once human embryos. We all lived in the first home of the whole human race, our mothers womb. For the Christian, we further profess that the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, was a human being, who, in the embryonic stage, lived in his mother’s womb. At every age and stage of our “human-being- ness”, be it in the womb, as an infant, as a child, an adolescent, an adult, in our times of illness, in our old age, we have always been dependent on others and vulnerable. This is what it means to be a human being. The emphasis of the proponents of the culture of death on independence and autonomy informs a worldview that Pope John Paul II taught threatens the “…entire structure of human rights.” (Gospel of Life, Par. 19)
So, we must rise and suffer the indignities of being verbally pilloried, accused of being anti-science” or “impeding progress”. We must speak for human embryonic Life as we speak for all human life. We must expose and oppose this new form of genetic slavery wherein an entire class of human persons is being labeled as property to be used by those who are more powerful. In conclusion, I speak specifically to my fellow Catholics; we will be at the front line. Why? Because our Church has been absolutely clear in her unbroken teaching on the dignity of every human person, including what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently called “embryonic persons”. Be ready to be called, as happened recently in response to our opposition to the appointment of dissident Catholic Kathleen Sebelius to the HHS, “Catholic Extremists”. The late beloved Servant of God John Paul II called it and he was indeed prophetic: “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up.”